NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Your apartment rent is just too high? Word from a recent study is: blame the venture capitalists.
That is the plain takeaway from the Zumper Venture Capital Rent Study, said Devin O’Brien, head of strategic marketing at San Francisco based rental listings website Zumper. Fact: in some cities, over 25% of apartment rent is directly attributable to venture capital flooding into the town, according to Zumper.
Breathe easily, however. Much of America is unaffected. Zumper data pinpointed just 20 cities that it said have measurable rent boosts due to venture capital. Zumper also said that ten U.S. cities got 78% of all VC money in 2014 and it’s in those towns where impacts on rent are highest. The impacts may be deep, but they are not wide.
But since when are VCs buying apartment buildings? They are not. They as a rule gravitate towards high opportunity niches - often tech related - and staid investments such as residential real estate are definitely not their thing. What VCs do, however, is fund tech companies that create high paying jobs where employees can fairly easily afford rent ordinary workers might not.
San Francisco is ground zero for the impact of VC money on residential rentals, said O’Brien, and that’s because Zumper data found a one-bedroom in Baghdad by the Bay rents for $3,252 - the highest rent of any city in the Zumper 20 - and of that amount, a whopping 33% is attributable to the flood of VC money into town. That’s $1,069 in rent that is paid, because VCs have bumped up the going rates.
San Francisco has also won the lion’s share of recent VC money, per Zumper. It says San Francisco took in $15.4 billion in 2014, representing almost one-third of the total VC investment of $48.984 billion. In the process entire neighborhoods - such as the Mission and the Tenderloin - that had once been neglected, in some views seedy, have suddenly become upmarket. Just about no neighborhood has completely avoided the impacts of VC money as tech startups have proliferated in San Francisco. There just seems no end of them.
It’s not the only city utterly transformed. Zumper also pointed to neighbor San Jose - with $6.8 billion in VC investment, 14% of the total - which has produced an average one-bedroom rent of $1,905, of which Zumper said 25% is due to the VC funding.
Other cities, too, are seeing significant VC impacts on rents.
They include (Boston, 13% of rent attributed to VC money), New York (10%), Los Angeles (8%), Seattle (5%), Oakland (5%), Austin(4%), Chicago (4%) and San Diego (4%).
Is the Zumper argument credible? New York-based Stuart Eisenberg, the national real estate practice leader at BDO, a leading accounting and consulting organization, responded with the affirmative. “You definitely see impacts of venture capital on rents," he said. "The money is pouring into Manhattan."
Justin Lee, co-founder of TheSquareFoot, a real estate tech startup and brokerage in New York, indicated that his company has not tracked data on apartments but it has seen a profound impact on office rents in select neighborhoods due to VC money (in 2014, New York got $4.2 billion, about 9% of the total). He pointed to the Flatiron, Chelsea and Union Square where, he indicated, tech startups account for half of all bids. Office rents in those neighborhoods are up 80% compared to ten years ago. The transformational impact of VC money on New York is, he said, unmistakable.
But it is not New York, but rather San Francisco that is this trend's epicenter. Why? It’s a matter of scale, said O’Brien. San Francisco got almost four times more VC money than New York and it is one-tenth the size (840,000 population versus 8.4 million). “There’s not a lot of housing in San Francisco,” said O’Brien. Plop down 100,000 apartment-hunting, high-paid techies in New York and impacts may be real but the system is not overwhelmed. Plop down a like number in San Francisco and, suddenly, it’s mayday for non tech workers.
Added O’Brien, whose company is venture backed (by Kleiner Perkins, among others) and based in San Francisco, “Our point was to spark a debate, that perhaps there are better markets for tech startups than San Francisco.”
Probably a lot of San Francisco residents fervently hope that message is heard.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held TK positions in the stocks mentioned.